What the foodies can expect from the new St Pancras

15 November 2007 by
What the foodies can expect from the new St Pancras

Sipping a cocktail at a Champagne bar while waiting for the next train out to Paris is a scene that most people would place in a bygone era of black-and-white movies rather than in the frenetic reality of today's train travel.

However, it was all-change yesterday (14 November) after the regeneration of London's St Pancras station and its rebirth as the UK's international Eurostar terminal, designed to bring some glamour back into train travel.

Ben Ruse, head of media at the station's co-owners London & Continental Railways (LCR), says: "We've got a role to play here in creating not just a showcase for St Pancras or for train stations, but for the UK. It's very important that people get a good impression when they step off the trains. This is an international arrival point."

To achieve this, LCR and Network Rail has attracted a broad spread of names to the nearly 8,000sq m of retail and catering space that will appeal not only to the passengers of the Eurostar services, but also to those using the forthcoming fast service to Kent and commuters using the station's other domestic services.

But the station is not just for passengers. It is hoped that it will also be used as a meeting point and shopping destination by non-travellers, which will help bring in a projected 40 million-plus people a year.

The key catering operations are located at track level within the station's main structure, the Barlow Shed (named after William Barlow, who designed the station, which opened in 1868), which consists of a massive arched roof held up by hundreds of repainted giant steel supports. The brickwork of the structure has also been cleaned up to remove the layers of grime that had accumulated over the 139 years that the station has been in operation.

Taking a hefty 929sq m on this level is caterer Searcy, which has the contract to run the 1868 Champagne bar and a brasserie consisting of a 90-seat restaurant that can be booked, a bar/café area with 70 seats, and a private dining room that accommodates 20 covers.

John Nugent, former chief executive of Searcy and now director of the St Pancras project, says: "There is a joy in train travel, and this is a lovely opportunity to restate some quality. This will be an impressive operation with a style unseen in any terminal in the UK. We aim to move up a notch to a level that will be unknown to train travellers."

As with the rest of the catering elements of the station, Searcy's offer is part of a rolling programme of openings that begin this month and run through into early 2008. First up is the Champagne bar, which at 90m is the longest in Europe and runs alongside the Eurostar track.

Shielded behind plate glass, the bar consists of individual booths for 100 people with their own lighting and heating, as well as a bar counter for standing-only customers located at the bar's central island. Along with a drinks selection, a menu of lighter and smaller dishes is also being served. Average spend on food is estimated at £9.50.

The brasserie will follow early next year with the aim of providing a mixed offer determined by the time constraints of travellers and the amount of money they have to spend. "We're taking a very common-sense approach and so will not ignore any one market. There is something for everybody with a few quid in their pocket," he says.

The offer will, therefore, seek to encompass a single main course with a glass of wine or coffee in the bar area for those people with 25 minutes to spare right through to a two-course meal for those with an hour-and-a-half on their hands. At the moment Searcy is dealing with the challenge of fitting out its unit within the Grade I-listed site to ensure that it is "in keeping with its history, but not retro".

Nugent acknowledges that committing to such a big venture is a risk, but he believes it will be worth it. "Any commercial venture is a risk, but there are potentially big gains. With 44 million visitors [expected to be] passing through a year - admittedly many will be head-down commuters - the access to people travelling to the Continent will be huge, and it should not be difficult to get the cream of this crop."

What he says fills him with great confidence is the successful turnaround of Grand Central Terminal in New York (see panel, page 28), which was once a no-go zone but is now reckoned to be the second most-visited site in the city after Times Square and attracts as many as 700,000 non-travellers each day.

The aim is to make St Pancras an equally attractive destination, with one of the main draws being its food and drink offer. So, in addition to the Searcy alternatives, there is a gastropub opening in early 2008. This is to be run by Geronimo Inns, which already operates a collection of 16 gastropubs around the South-east.

Rupert Clevely, managing director of Geronimo, says he jumped at the chance of being part of the station. "It's such a beautiful space, and what I love about it is that it will put the magic back into travel. Food writer Nick Lander [acting as a consultant to LCR] approached me to see if we'd take the space, and after looking at the site we were really excited."

Clevely has named the pub the Betjeman Arms in dedication to the former poet laureate Sir John Betjeman, whose campaigning helped to save the station from demolition in the 1960s. But this is where the past ends - even though the space has great features, LCR does not want the space to be dedicated to train history. Instead, it wants a more contemporary feel. Clevely describes it as "a mix of contemporary with gentlemen's club".

This will differentiate it from the company's other pubs. "Replicating the Builders Arms in Chelsea will not work," he says. "So we'll take bits and adapt them to give a cosy, warm, friendly service with food freshly cooked and decent wines and beers."

The 460sq m pub comprises 232sq m inside, which will fit up to 90 seats after the kitchens, bar and cellar have been installed a space on the station platform for 100 seats and an external raised space just outside the station for a further 100 seats overlooking Euston Road and accessed from the road by stairs.

One constraint of being on a station is the limited storage space within the unit, so Clevely says the Geronimo team will have to "push the boundaries with the space", but the intention is to keep the food offer simple "and deliver fabulous quality".

Recent recruit Ben Maschler, who joined from Soho House - where he has been replaced by ex-Racine chef and co-owner Henry Harris - has overseen the menu, which will comprise six starters, priced at £5-£7, including potted shrimps and steak tartare six mains that run from macaroni cheese to linguine with clams (£7-£19) six salad and sandwich options, such as salt beef on rye with gherkins and five sides. There are also desserts, priced £4-£5.

The delay in the pub's opening until the end of January 2008 is down to the complexity of the site, which is in the famous neo-gothic 300-room Midland Grand hotel, designed by George Gilbert Scott and completed in 1873. The hotel, which has been closed for 75 years, is scheduled to reopen in 2010 with 240 bedrooms as part of the Marriott Renaissance group in the final piece of the St Pancras regeneration jigsaw.

To slake the appetite and quench the thirst of travellers, Clevely has opened a temporary "baby Betjeman" version of the pub on the platform area until the main pub is ready.

The other major operator at track level will be Carluccio's, although the company has yet to sign all the paperwork and so is unwilling to comment. However, it is believed to be a Caffè format, and Ruse says the company is fitting out the kitchen and has a scheduled opening date of early December for its 240sq m unit, which will also have additional space for tables on the station platform. It is located in a prime spot near the Betjeman Arms and underneath a replica of the station's original clock close to the Euston Road exit.

The other food offerings inside the station - both at track level and on the lower Undercroft level next to the Eurostar check-in area - comprise a mixture of well-established names and lesser-known operators, including Le Pain Quotidien, Peyton & Byrne, Benugo, Pure Pie and a café-style wine bar offering beer, Champagne and 20 wines by the glass being launched by Glendola Leisure on 17 December.

Although these concessions will be important to the financial success of the station, at the end of the day its place as an international hub that returns some much-needed glamour to train travel will rest on how many people can be tempted to sip cocktails in the 1868 Champagne Bar.

The 1868 Champagne bar, operated by Searcy, is the first catering operation to open at the new St Pancras

When completed in 1865, St Pancras's Barlow Shed was the largest undivided enclosed space in the world

Grand Central Terminal, New York

If there is a blueprint for the overhauled St Pancras, then it is New York's Grand Central Terminal. Following a two-year restoration and renovation project, completed in 1998, the terminal now attracts as many as 700,000 non-travellers each day.

It has achieved this by becoming a major venue for food lovers and providing a wide variety of different offers located on various levels. These include five fine-dining restaurants, 20 casual-dining venues and a number of gourmet food outlets housed in Grand Central Market.

On the Grand Central balcony sit the high-end dining venues of Cipriani Dolci, Charlie Palmer's Métrazur and Michael Jordan's the Steak House NYC. Lower down is the famous Oyster Bar & Restaurant, which is an original fixture from when the station opened in 1913. One of the terminal's other jewels is the Campbell Apartment, which is now a cocktail bar evoking the 1920s when it was the office of businessman John W Campbell.

On the dining concourse there are a wide variety of cuisines, which are eaten in dining car-style seating areas, as well as three sit-down restaurants.

Gare de Lyon, Paris

As the station for long-distance trains travelling to the South of France, Gare de Lyon has links with the glory days of the British elite holidaying in the sunny Côte d'Azur in the 1920s and 1930s.

What makes the catering at this station stand out is the one element that harks back to this period - its impressive Le Train Bleu restaurant, named after the famous Blue Train that ferried the UK's moneyed classes in luxury to their holiday villas.

The ornately decorated interior has vast amounts of gilding that frames both its large windows and numerous painted panels that cover most of the ceiling. Its broad menu includes the reasonably priced Menu Réjane at €48 (£33), which is the ideal preparation for a long journey and comprises three courses (which could include Lyon pistachio sausage in Périgueux sauce, Peking duck breast in honey and spices, and its renowned rum baba) as well as a half-bottle of wine.

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